Monday, September 25, 2023

Marcus Rashford rescues Manchester United with brace; Red Devils rally in Cyprus to beat Omonia

After going behind in the first half of their Europa League group stage match on Thursday, Manchester United were able to storm back to a 3-2 victory away against Cypriot side Omonia. A brace from Marcus Rashford helped see the team make up for defensive mistakes and Cristiano Ronaldo missing shots while chasing the 700th goal of his club career. 

Despite controlling possession in the first half, it was the home side Omoina that went into the break with the lead. A pass from Bruno Filipe led to a three-on-one break for Omiona where David De Gea had no chance. But it’s how the chance happened that sums up United’s woes so far this season. In Erik ten Hag’s aggressive setup, one mistake can lead to the team being caught out and that’s just what happened. After a poor showing in the Manchester derby, left-back Tyrell Malacia was knocked off the ball leading to the easiest goal that Karim Ansarifard will ever score.

These mistakes led to Malacia being hooked at halftime for Luke Shaw and they could cost him the starting role at Manchester United after how the team improved in the second period. Jadon Sancho, who was fine on the defensive end but went missing going forward creating two chances and taking one shot, was also replaced at the break with Rashford coming on, and the team remembered that they should be winning this game.

After Rashford’s introduction, it only took eight minutes for him to hit the back of the net. United left the entire Omonia defense in the dust with a perfect ball over the top and despite taking a bad touch initially, Rashford was able to fire his chance home to bring things level.

He’d keep the good times going assisting fellow substitute Anthony Martial before bagging a brace from a Ronaldo assist. There are questions about if Ronaldo was going for goal when Rashford hit the ball into an empty net but they all count the same. It wasn’t all smiles for United in the second half as Nikolas Panagiotou fired a great shot past De Gea, but that’s why Rashford’s second goal for insurance was so important to preserve the victory that keeps United second in Group E behind Real Sociedad.

Here are a few takeaways from the match:

Through Rashford, all things are possible 

Without Rashford on the team, the Red Devils may still be struggling in the bottom half of the Premier League. After only being involved in six goals during the 2021-22 season, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see ten Hag move on from Rashford, but he has returned to begin one of the first names on the team sheet. With two goals and an assist from the bench, Rashford was able to inspire United’s comeback as he now has been involved in eight goals in eight appearances this season. The entire attack went through Rashford when he came into the match, and floating on the right wing or as a center forward, defenses aren’t able to key in on him. His form has also kept Ronaldo on the bench in the Premier League and there are no signs of that slowing down soon.

Where are ten Hag’s depth options?

Europa League has been a good test for United players to show that they need more time in the Premier League and so far, people outside of ten Hag’s core rotation haven’t helped their cases with some performers like Malacia hurting their chances for starts in the future. Despite Ronaldo’s assist, this game would’ve been out of sight if he took his chances well during the match. Taking eight shots, only one tested the keeper with another being intercepted by Rashford for the assist into an open goal. Ronaldo did come close, but it’s not enough to push for more Premier League minutes with a healthy Martial at ten Hag’s disposal.

In defense, Victor Lindelof and Malacia didn’t cover themselves in glory but one depth option who is pushing for more minutes is Casemiro. Defensively, he won two of his three tackles while making seven recoveries to allow Christian Eriksen and Fernandes to push forward and create chances. More of that will be needed and it feels like Casemiro will take a starting role from Scott McTominay sooner than later.

Who wants to be left-back?

Shaw came on, and the team’s performance improved, but he didn’t have the greatest showing, earning a yellow card and not creating any chances. Diogo Dalot is firmly the starter on the right but ten Hag hasn’t seen enough from anyone to figure out who will take the role on the left. After two disappointing showings from Malacia, it’s likely that Shaw will start against Everton on Sunday, but one of these players needs to show ten Hag that they deserve the role or there may be another new signing coming in January.

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